NEWPORT-BASED GoCompare.com has lost a bitter court battle with rivals comparethemarket.com over trademarking the phrase ‘compare the market’.
The insurance website, made famous by Aleksandr the meerkat overcame objections from GoCompare and won the exclusive right to use, in combination, the three ordinary English words that make up its name.
The company behind comparethemarket.com, BGL Group Ltd, already has registered trademarks to protect its use of the composite word.
However, its bid to win exclusive rights to the phrase 'compare the market' - with spaces - was opposed by GoCompare.
Lawyers for GoCompare, established and led by Cwmbran woman Hayley Parsons, insisted that the phrase was 'merely descriptive' and commonly used by any number of other price comparison sites.
However, in handing victory to comparethemarket.com, the Trade Marks Office ruled that the three words, read together, had developed a 'distinctive character' - partly due to the phenomenal success of the website's meerkat ad campaigns.
Trademarks official, Allan James, said that more than £90 million had been spent on promoting the comparethemarket brand in the first three years after the website went live in 2007.
Turnover grew exponentially from £6.6 million in the first year to almost £66 million in 2010. By then comparethemarket had a 23% share of the price comparison market, only eclipsed by GoCompare with over 30%.
The first meerkat advert appeared in January 2009 and, by 2011, Aleksandr - fictional boss of 'comparethemeerkat.com' - had three-quarters-of-a-million Facebook friends.
GoCompare argued that the vague phrase 'compare the market' was customarily used on a wide range of price comparison sites and could relate to myriad different markets and myriad different comparisons within each one.
Mr James accepted that the descriptive phrase would ordinarily be excluded from registration as a trade mark.
However, the evidence was that it had only begun to appear on other websites after the launch of comparethemarket.com and that some of them deliberately used it to pick up hits from confused internet users.
The phrase 'compare the market' - often used by the press and others to denote the website - had, through relentless marketing, developed a distinctive character in the public consciousness and thus qualified for registration, Mr James ruled.
GoCompare's opposition to the registration was rejected.
The Argus contacted GoCompare who did not wish to comment.